Alexey Simonov is President of the Glasnost Defense Foundation. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Glasnost Defense Foundation appeals ‘foreign agent’ label in court

The Russian organization Glasnost Defense Foundation has appealed against the Ministry of Justice’s decision to label the organization as ‘foreign agent’.
March 30, 2016

In the first court hearing, the ministry was not been able to prove that Glasnost Defense Foundation is involved in any political activity.

Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF) – a respected non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting media freedom in Russia – was registered as foreign agent by the Ministry of Justice in November 2015, as Independent Barents Observer reported.

Founded just before the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Glasnost Defense Foundation aims at defending journalism and freedom of expression in Russia. Prominent Soviet authors, filmmakers and journalists started the Foundation.

As many other NGO’s, GDF was fined 300,000 rubles for failing to register as foreign agents voluntarily, Novaya Gazeta writes.

At the first court hearing in Moscow on Monday, GDF said that the registration of the organization as ‘foreign agent’ was based on ‘far-fetched’ accusations about political activity, newspaper Novyye Izvestiya reports. 

A non-governmental organization can be labelled ‘foreign agent’ if it receives funding from abroad, and is involved in political activity. That GDF is getting its money from foreign states, the organization confirms. According to President of GDF Aleksey Simonov, the organization is almost 100% financed by foreign sources. Among these are Soros Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and National Endowment for Democracy, according to Wikipedia.

If the case is clear when it comes to foreign financing, it becomes more muddled when discussing whether or not GDF is involved in political activity. According to Novye Izvestiya, the Ministry of Justice could not find anything in GDF’s documents that indicated that the organization is  involved in such types of activity, just that a video where writer Boris Akunin was criticizing the Russian authorities had been shown at a meeting, and that GDF was cooperating with “Fond for support of investigative journalism”, another NGO that has been labelled ‘foreign agent’.

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The Law on Foreign Agents has been criticized for being too vague on what is meant by “political activity”, and the Minsitry of Justice has proposed to articulate seven forms of activities that should be recognized as “political”.

The court concluded that the ministry had not been able to prove that Glasnost Defense Foundation is involved in any political activity and asked its representatives to prepare better for the next hearing, which is scheduled for April 12th.

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